The Curse of a Mississippi Mansion
December 2, 2015
While wandering down the backroads of America, I have discovered that traveling is not unlike reading a book.
Nothing is predictable.
And life itself is the stuff of fiction.
Lost behind a veil of Spanish moss, at the end of a long, winding dirt road, I found Longwood, the gabled “Wuthering Heights” of the Mississippi. During those prosperous early days of the 19th century, two-thirds of the nation’s millionaires lived in Natchez, and one of them was a cotton planter named Dr. Haller Nutt.
Longwood was his dream.
Dr. Nutt had often heard vivid descriptions of the wonders of Greece, Turkey, Egypt, and the Holy Land. In his mind, he could envision their palaces of marble and stone. And those visions became the influence of Longwood.
Its architecture was referred to as Moorish, Egyptian, Byzantine, and bizarre.
But for Dr. Nutt, it was his kind of home.
Without any hesitation, he invested $100,000 in its construction. But, alas, here came the war.
The Civil War.
A deadly war.
The War of Northern Aggression, as the South would call it.
The Late Unplesantness as it would be known in Mississippi.
And Dr. Nutt’s workmen abandoned him. Some wanted to fight, and some wanted to run, and none of them ever hammered another nail into the mansion.
The cotton planter’s supplies ran dry.
He could no longer haul them past Union blockades.
And that troubled him a great deal.
He might live in the Deep South, but Dr. Haller Nutt was a Union man at heart.
He moved his family into the first floor of the home where he had converted his billiard room into a parlor, his smoking room into a master bedroom, and the school house into a kitchen.
Dr. Nutt, determined to remain faithful to his country, raised the American flag and let it fly above Longwood, and he settled down to quietly await the war’s end.
Confederate soldiers burned his cottonfields and left them in ruin and ashes. He fed and clothed Union troops, then watched in dismay as they marched away and put the torch to his cotton gin, three plantations, and a sawmill.
Overnight, Dr. Haller Nutt found that he had nothing left in the world. He was ruined, and his land was in ruin.
A year before the war ended, Dr. Nutt died of a broken heart.
Once he had been a millionaire.
His wife was left with a mere eight thousand dollars.
All she could call her own were a few milk cows, and, in desperation, she began selling milk to Northern soldiers.
They stole her cows.
And a refined, sophisticated lady who had once been wined and dined as the richest woman in Mississippi had to pull weeds and boil them so her children would have something to eat.
Longwood remained as a symbol to one man’s sorrow.
It was her curse.
The house was never finished.
It never will be.
My novel, Little Lies, is set in Vicksburg, Mississippi. The state does have its share of sin and secrets.